Our guest blogger is Bart King, who writes humorous nonfiction for middle readers and immature adults. His greatest literary achievement is incorporating his name into the actual title of his new book: Bart’s King-Sized Book of Fun. He has over a half-million books in print, and his work has been translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Australian. Oh, and Bart prefers to be thought of as a “non-award winning author” despite some small evidence to the contrary. More about Bart at www.bartking.net.
So the Spanish word for “hedgehog” is erizo—
Oh, hello! I didn’t see you there. I was just working on a little project I have, namely learning Spanish. And maybe Urdu! After all, I can study 22 different languages through the Multnomah County Library website. If you’re not aware of this, the MCL has a subscription with a language education service called Mango. ¡Eso es fantastico! All you need is your library card; to take a look, just go to the MCL homepage, click on "Research" and then "Databases A-Z" and then "M" for Mango.
When I’m done with my Spanish homework, it’ll be time for me to run a number of subject searches in the MCL catalog. Today I’m doing research for a humorous book for kids about evil (seriously). And I want to know what learned minds in the fields of anthropology, history, psychology and literature have to say about evil. (I’d think, “It’s bad” would pretty much cover it, but I’d better double-check to be sure.)
As much as I respect the MCL’s holdings, my work won’t be done until I consult the InterLibrary Loan link to see what titles exist in THE REST OF THE WORLD. That’s right, with ILL, I can see (and check out) the holdings of libraries in other counties, states and countries!
You may have noticed that I haven’t tried your patience with a long list of the books I check out for pleasure reading. I think we can agree that people who do this sort of thing are insufferable show-offs. (That’s right Marc Acito, I’m talking about you!)
So let’s just say I check out a lot of books for personal reasons, and my motives for doing so are complex. For example, when the comics anthology Kramers Ergot 7 came out, it was priced beyond my shaky, arthritic grasp. So I checked it out from the library and found that my shaky, arthritic grasp was just strong enough to hang on to the volume while reading it. (And if you don’t find my motive particularly complex in the above example, let me assure you that being a cheapskate is a very nuanced state of affairs indeed.)
If I check out a library book that I find I really love, I buy it. For example, on my nightstand are two books I checked out from the Hollywood branch and then quickly returned to the library and went out and bought:
- Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch. This is Hornby’s memoir of growing up as a soccer fan in England during the 1980s.
- David Mitchell, Black Swan Green. This is Mitchell’s thinly veiled memoir of growing up and listening to embarrassing music in England during the 1980s. (Spandau Ballet, anyone?)
As you can see, my reading tastes are far-reaching as long as the author provides the essential elements of good literature: Style, a rewarding subtext, and a plot about growing up in England in the 1980s.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really must wrap up my Spanish studies. (What’s the right word for a baby hedgehog? I’m guessing hedgehogito, but I’d better check that…)
The actress Patricia Neal died on August 8. She starred in one of my all-time favorite movies, A Face in the Crowd.
In any opportunity to wax on about A Face in the Crowd I tend to emphasize Neal’s co-star, Andy Griffith, who plays a lecherous, greedy, manipulative television star. Griffith’s charisma is incredible, and as we all know him so well as Sherriff Taylor it is mind-blowing to see him as Taylor’s evil twin, "Lonesome" Rhodes.
That topic exhausted, I will enthusiastically move on to the movie’s intelligent and hilarious take on television. 1957 seems awful early for such a biting and accurate indictment. Keep your eye on that rating!
But Neal’s character is the soul of the movie. She is the one who discovers and promotes "Lonesome" Rhodes, and who must destroy him. Because Rhodes is not simply crass. He is a fascist, and he plans to use his popularity to do real evil. Neal’s character is no raft borne by the tide; she is a moral creature and a true adult. And that makes A Face in the Crowd an all-too-rare treat: a movie in which a woman has world-changing power and responsibility.
When I was little, I thought jazz music was pretty awful. My step-dad, who is a huge jazz and blues fan, just couldn't get me to like it. When I went to college, I listened to a live jazz band and was hooked. Jazz encompasses so many different styles, but my favorites are the old stuff — Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, etc.
For many years, I've listened to jazz compilations so that I get a little bit of everything. And nothing beats a compilation of instrumental classic jazz to relax with, do homeworkor even cook by. I'm not knocking the contemporary stuff at all. But it's just way different in sound and feel. When I was in college, I listened to Kenny G, Gerald Albright, David Sanborn and Hiroshima. They were really my introduction to contemporary jazz. It took me years later to really appreciate everything that jazz music has to offer.
It really does depend on your tastes. Thankfully there is something for everyone when it comes to jazz. As I mentioned before, I do enjoy jazz vocalists, and there are many to choose from such as Al Jarreau, who encompasses a really smooth sound with acrobatic vocals that will blow you away, to Billie Holiday, whose voice is so unique, that once you hear it, you won't forget it. If jazz music isn't something you think you're into, give it a try, and you may find yourself hooked. Why not try to listen to some Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Bob Jamesor Grover Washington, Jr.? You can find a complete list of Jazz Dd's here, or just type the artist's name in the author field in the catalog to find the library's holdings.
So why do I enjoy my jazz music so much? Because for every mood, every activity, every feeling, there is a jazz piece ready to accompany it. And that's pretty cool.
I sat down to dinner recently and noticed something amiss. My otherwise-perfect and untouched plate of food sported an ear of corn with a shaggy crop circle in the middle of the cob about the size of a preschooler's mouth. I looked to Child the Younger, sitting to my right, and asked him if he knew what had happened. He smiled jubilantly, his baby teeth clotted with yellow kernels.
I have learned from parenting that there is birthed, along with the child, a never-ending list of things-- both done and undone-- for which to be sorry on both sides. This parenting thing is a project without blueprints, continually under construction, using tools that are as frequently inadequate, shoddy, missing or downright dangerous as they are right for the job. If a day on the parenting jobsite is particularly heinous, I may think of the list I have posted at my desk just to remind myself to laugh:
The Six Phases of a Project:
1. Wild Enthusiasm
4. Search for the Guilty
5. Punishment of the Innocent
6. Praise and Honors for the Non-Participants
One project I managed to complete on my recent vacation was reading Brady Udall's magnificent novel The Lonely Polygamist. This is a Big Book, in both a physical and an existential sense; it is the American family writ large. Golden Richards is a big man (known to some as "Sasquatch") with three houses, four wives and twenty-eight children. He has problems. Big problems. While his lifestyle creates and magnifies difficulties, his internal struggles could belong to anyone. He attempts to keep his contracting business and his family finances afloat with a morally questionable project: his wives think the brothel he's building in Nevada is a senior center. His wives don't understand him and his children don't really know him. The story builds upon the alternating points of view of Golden, Trish (his fourth and newest wife), and Rusty (the eleven-year-old son of his third wife.) Trish is at a crossroads in her marriage while Rusty hatches a revenge plot for the bungling of his "special" birthday. At the center for each of these characters is a smoldering sun of grief blinding them in various ways to the complicated landscape. Golden grieves a lost daughter, Trish grieves a lost son, and Rusty is a ticking time bomb of grief waiting to happen. In all of this Udall manages to find the inherent humor in each situation, much of it laugh-out-loud funny. Within the mundane Udall raises Big questions, but the one that percolates through and ultimately lifts the book far above anything else I have read recently is this:
How big is love?
This is a question echoed by the deservedly popular HBO television series Big Love which I also highly recommend. Bill Henrickson is a modern-day polygamist living in suburban Salt Lake City with his three sister-wives, their numerous children and houses, and all of the complications and frustrations of his chosen lifestyle. His ties with a fundamentalist compound bring trouble, as do his business arrangements. Can one man find a way to keep it all together when forces both internal and external threaten constantly to tear it apart? Faith and love are big, but are they big enough?
In her memoir The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance Elna Baker discusses the issues that come with Big Faith. By turns utterly hilarious and painfully embarrassing, this described "Mormon Tina Fey" tells tales of what it's like to be an abstinent and religious single young woman in a city that's pretty much...not. Along the way she loses eighty pounds and takes a series of fascinating jobs ( I was entranced by her description of life as an "adoption specialist" for ridiculously expensive baby dolls at FAO Schwarz.) The heartbreak that ensues is predictable, but Baker finds the humor in each situation and manages introspection along with stories such as showing up to a Halloween dance dressed in a failed costume that makes her look, quite accidentally, like a giant part of the female anatomy.
The holds lists may be lengthy for some of these, but believe me: the love is Big. And worth the wait
The Kitty Norville series is by Carrie Vaughn and book one is called Kitty and the Midnight Hour. This urban fantasy is the perfect summer lounge chair series. Each book is a quick read. According to the author there are 10 books planned, plus an anthology of Kitty Universe short stories.
Kitty Norville is a radio DJ. She hosts a midnight talk show for and about the supernatural world. In this world supernatural beings are real. At the beginning of the series magic is still fairly hidden from the public eye. Kitty was changed into a werewolf against her will. She finds the strength to accept her change and build her own pack. Outed to the public on television as a supernatural being, Kitty has to face both magical and mundane threats. The author has done an excellent job building the character: she's likable and capable, with reasonable flaws to make her interesting.Oh, and I did promise you a romance in there somewhere, didn't I? It's in there. Don't worry.
The veil of preconceptions has been removed from my eyes and I see the light:Frank Capra made some very funny movies.
Best known for heavy-on-the-syrup fare such as It’s a Wonderful Life or Meet John Doe, Capra also made some sharp, occasionally acerbic comedies --Platinum Blonde and It Happened One Night are right up there with the best of Ernst Lubitsch or Preston Sturges.
But the Capra movie that has really caught my imagination may be the most sentimental of all, You Can’t Take it With You.
The plot centers around the love affair between the wealthy Jimmy Stewart and the poor Jean Arthur, but the show is stolen by Arthur’s chaotic household: the perpetually pirouetting sister, the mother who happily writes plays that have no chance of being produced (the stack of completed pages held down by a kitten), the father setting off fireworks in the basement. And the soul of the movie, her Grandpa (Lionel Barrymore), providing the philosophy that guides them all. Grandpa is the antithesis of Mr. Potter (the character Barrymore played in It’s a Wonderful Life). The thing you can’t take with you is money, of course, so what’s the good of it: just do what makes you happy.
The movie ends with a rousing, anarchic rendition of ‘Polly Wolly Doodle’ played while the whole darn neighborhood watches the family dance wildly in a living room decorated only with a ‘Home Sweet Home’ sign. Corn? To quote another great, Howard Hawk’s Ball of Fire, “Right off the cob”.
I've been accused of being obsessed with England. I don't think that's entirely true because If it were, I would probably eat beans on toast for breakfast, and that's a dietary choice I just can't fathom. I will, however, read pretty much any book that's set in Britain as long as it's not too gory. Historical, mystery, contemporary, whatever - I'll read it if the place is across the pond, and I just finished two that I absolutely loved. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier tells the story of two women living in the seaside town of Lyme Regis in the early 1800s. One is Mary Anning, a young, uneducated girl who is a whiz at finding fossils which are called "curies" or curiosities by the locals. The other is Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster from London who is living in somewhat reduced circumstances with two of her three sisters. She is also fascinated by curies and sets out to gather her own collection that focuses on fossil fish. Tossed into the mix are characters who are also based on real people (both Mary and Elizabeth actually lived in Lyme, and Mary did discover the skeletons of several species) including members of the religious and scientific communities who debated the meaning of fossils and how they related to God's creation and intent. Extinction was a radical concept then, and many people could not accept the fact that something that once lived could no longer exist. Chevalier's research is extensive and she uses that to good effect, recreating Lyme and the time period and making those involved in the discovery and collecting of fossils, including the icthyosaur and plesiosaur, come alive.
Anyone who has read a Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie knows that underneath the roses and quaint cottages, the English village is not always serene. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson examines the pettiness, racism and greed that exists in one village, and frames them in a romance between an elderly major and the local, lovely shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali. Mrs. Ali was born in England but her ancestry is Pakistani and so she is looked upon with some suspicion and is not fully accepted into Edgecomb St. Mary's society. I lovedMajor Pettigrew's Last Stand for lots of reasons, but I especially liked it because it follows the traditional romance form and, like the very best romance novels, also provides a thoughtful story of substance.
If you, too, have ever been called "obsessively Anglophilic", just go with it and enjoy these novels.